The Power of Success
When Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis won the match point that secured the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon earlier this month, it sparked wild celebrations here in India, with Sania’s hometown of Hyderabad leading the charge. It was the first time a woman from India had won at Wimbledon, as well as Sania’s first title at this particular Grand Slam event. But there was something different about this win compared to her previous ones, or even the many successes of Indian athletes around the world. This one felt cathartic.
Sania’s career has been dotted with adversity. She’s had to deal with dips in form that every elite athlete must endure, but injuries have been unkind to her in the past. On top of that, as a female celebrity in India, her life has been subject to immense scrutiny and criticism. She’s been accused of chasing money, of being unpatriotic because she’s married to a Pakistani national, and of failing to deliver on her promise and potential.
Where the average person would have cowed to such criticism and accusation, Sania stepped up and spoke her mind. On the performance front, she has made seven Grand Slam finals in the last eight years, winning four of them. She’s outlined and executed a brilliant plan for her eponymous tennis academy on the outskirts of the city, clarifying that any funds she’s sought have been solely for the benefit of this institution. And despite the emotional toll that comes with being accused of lacking patriotism, she has done India proud time and again, with performances as well as results.
On the back of her Wimbledon success, Sania said that she hopes the win can inspire young girls around the country to pursue not just tennis, but sports of all types. But if there is one lesson we can all learn from Sania, it’s that of perseverance. It would have been easy for her to give up and retire during a spate of serious injuries that threatened to hamper her game permanently, but Sania put in more work and more effort to come back stronger. And rather than simply brush off all the unfair criticism, it seems to have only fuelled her motivation and hunger.
The average person can’t even begin to understand what it’s like for a celebrity to have every aspect of her life picked apart, analysed and criticised. The rich and famous might have plenty of success and money, but they more than most have to contend with rumours and attempts to damage their reputations. So for Sania to have dealt with all this with dignity and grace is a testament to her mental fortitude, which all elite athletes must possess in addition to peak physical condition.
I’m sure Sania has worked hard to achieve success of her own, but a person of her character will also want future generations to benefit. This much is evident from the time and energy she devotes to her academy. It would be a shame, in that case, to let this win end with a few celebratory tweets and articles of praise. The Indian government needs to step up and seize this opportunity to truly push domestic sport to the next level, and India itself needs to keep supporting and encouraging those who represent us on the international stage.
Another thing about Sania that the youth of the nation could learn from is her desire to give back to the community. Located in Moinabad on several acres, the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy (SMTA) is arguably the premier facility of its kind in South India. There are 12 courts – nine of Grand Slam standard and three of Euro standard – as well as an air-conditioned clubhouse with dressing rooms and a gym. A turf field and swimming pool round out the conditioning facilities, landscaped greenery provides a comfortable atmosphere, and transportation is provided between the academy and Hyderabad.
People don’t invest time, money and energy in that sort of endeavour to turn a profit. Often run by current and former athletes, academies such as SMTA are purpose-built for one objective: to identify and develop elite performers. So while she deserves every bit of praise that’s come her way for doing so well on the international stage, Sania needs to be commended just as much for doing her part to further India’s sporting agenda.
I’m not a tennis fan by any stretch of the imagination, but even I couldn’t help but watch when Sania and Martina Hingis took to the court for their showpiece match. If just making the final can draw that sort of interest from someone who never watches tennis, imagine what it can do for a young boy or girl who wants nothing more than to play at Roland Garros or Wimbledon, just as Sania did all those years ago. The inspirational nature of this success should not be underestimated. Sania has more than done her part to push tennis in India to the next level. Now it’s our turn.